What a difference twenty years makes

Truro cathedral's director of music Christopher Gray

Having just passed the twenty-year milestone working at the cathedral (I started as Andrew Nethsingha’s assistant in September 2000) I thought I might indulge in a bit of reflection. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, of course, but if lockdown has given us anything, it’s time to take stock and (over-)think.

Twenty years on, if I’ve gained one thing, it’s perspective; or more precisely an awareness of the cathedral that goes, as it were, both vertically and horizontally: vertically in terms of the tradition of Truro Cathedral, and its choir that pre-dates the current building; and horizontally in terms of the community, volunteers and staff who serve at this moment in time. The more you consider those X and Y axes, the more accurately you can fix your own place in it all. It’s like those wonderful YouTube clips of the Earth when the shot pans out to larger planets, then the sun, then still larger stars until the earth is a tiny speck. 

For me, that awareness starts with the regular worshippers – many of whom are friends – who were here before I arrived and will be here after I leave; similarly the long-serving members of the back row of the choir. And, like all cathedral organists, I’m conscious of my distinguished predecessors (just nine of them in total over the last 140 years).

Mulling over all the people in the past whose service has left us with the Truro Cathedral we know today, and adding in those who pour so much of their lives into maintaining and developing their work in 2020, all leads to one word: custodianship.

Custodianship is one of several core concepts at the heart of all cathedrals, and Truro Cathedral in particular. It isn’t unique to cathedrals or churches but it enriches our communities in a particular way that gives us a vantage point that I feel is worth sharing and considering alongside other forms of custodianship such as our stewardship of the planet and its resources.

With apologies to St Paul, I offer some thoughts about custodianship. 

Custodianship is dutiful, custodianship is humble. It does not shirk hard work, it does not indulge ego, it is not selfish. It is proud to depend on the kindness of others. It respects history, brings perspective and respects the natural change and evolution of viewpoints over years and decades while being built on underlying beliefs of granite. It inspires dignity and wonder in response to all the people who have worked towards the same end over many years. It is rooted in love. 

It is one of the greatest joys of my job that I get to see that love and that custodianship lived out, not just by the choir and those who support it, but by the clergy, staff and volunteers who give so much of their lives to serve the cathedral in the best way they know how.

I don’t have a particular piece of music to accompany this blog, but in case you missed it in July, we posted this video to pay tribute to our leaving choir members who have been the finest possible custodians of our choral tradition.